39 TO BEAM UP (2015)
Video still from Swallowed Up In Space.
A source of inspiration while developing the performance We The New Community was the religious group known as Heaven's Gate. I was especially interested in the organization's relationship to the internet. Namely, they were often cited by the media as an early example of an "internet cult."
Much to my surprise, I found there was little evidence to suggest that any members of Heaven's Gate found the group through the internet, let alone were recruited via chat rooms as was widely speculated.
Detail of JWNODY (Clustering I). Inkjet digital print.
What I found instead was a striking parallel between the group's belief in a technologically-enabled immortality and their enduring presence as an internet phenomenon. To this day, their website remains actively maintained by two surviving members.
I sent an email to the posted address and received a polite, if guarded response. The unnamed person on the other end directed me to an unpublished Vimeo account that contained high-quality digitized versions of the original farewell tapes recorded by several members of Heaven's Gate shortly before they took their own lives.
The body of work I refer to as 39 To Beam Up entertains the point of view that the members of Heaven's Gate did achieve the disembodied transcendence they sought after, however, as digitized information freely accessible on the internet.
SWALLOWED UP IN SPACE (2015)
While researching the group, I came across a letter to the editor (full text below) published shortly after 39 members of the group took their own lives in 1997. Swallowed Up In Space was created as a response to the author's description of Timothy Leary's ashes floating in space, from which he draws a parallel to Heaven's Gate.
Using the farewell videos recorded by members of the group as source material, each video still I pulled becomes reanimated as a particle system in three-dimensional space. The movement of each particle is generated by algorithms typically utilized in artificial intelligence for video games. The sound was derived from samples from Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was reportedly a favorite series of Heaven's Gate members.
To the Editor:
Timothy Leary's ashes are floating in space, and you report it as an occasion for jubilation (front page, April 22). Am I the only one who sees the parallels with the Heaven's Gate tragedy? The sense of alienation reflected in both stories is cause for sadness.
The appeal of the night sky is its vastness and inaccessibility, and those features are only meaningful when you view the heavens from here on Earth. I see no joy in the idea of being swallowed up in the emptiness. It is no coincidence that astronauts report that signt of Earth is the most awe-inspiring sight in space.
JOSEPH S. LIEBER
Belmont, Mass. April 23, 1997
NY TIMES: April 26, 1997
THIS PLACE IS A HOLOGRAM
Intended as a companion piece to Swallowed Up In Space, This Place Is A Hologram was created by reviewing the farewell videos recorded by members of Heaven's Gate before ending their lives in 1997. While going through the material, I attempted to isolate moments that I felt best articulated the individual group member's reasoning or state of mind.
Employing some of the same algorithmic processes as Swallowed Up In Space, I generated a series of high-resolution digital prints using stills chosen from the farewell videos recorded by members of Heaven's Gate (immediately below).
The script that I wrote to create the portraits animates each individual pixel of the source image, endowing each of these cells with a new, digital life as they drift outwards into emptiness.
JWNODY (Wandering I)
JMMODY (Wandering II)
JMMODY (Wandering III)
JMMODY (Wandering V)
DVVODY (Wandering IV)
JWNODY (Clustering I)
DVVODY (Clustering II)